Tuesday marks the University System of Maryland’s self-imposed deadline to announce any initial decisions and recommendations regarding the embattled University of Maryland football program.
The Board of Regents scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon to discuss the damning results of an investigation into the state flagship’s athletic department. The board had met in closed session Monday evening to discuss the report.
It was the fifth time the Board of Regents gathered to discuss the findings, prepared by an eight-person commission tasked with reviewing the football team’s culture after the June heatstroke death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair and subsequent media reports that labelled the team atmosphere “toxic.”
The regents were likely to have discussed the futures of university president Wallace Loh, athletic director Damon Evans and football coach DJ Durkin, who has been on administrative leave since August. The three men met in-person with the regents over the course of a more than five-hour meeting Friday.
The roughly 200-page report at the center of the regents’ deliberations determined that the Terps football program “fostered a culture where problems festered because too many players feared speaking out.” It detailed stories of the physical and mental degradation of football players within an athletic department that lacked the systems to root out abuse.
Loh, Evans and Durkin share some degree of blame for the “dysfunction” that plagued the athletic department in the years prior to McNair’s death, according to the report. The university system published the full report online Monday, a few days after it had leaked to a handful of media outlets.
All the regents’ meetings regarding the football program have been held in closed session. This is allowed under the Open Meetings Act because the regents are set to discuss potential litigation and personnel matters, according to a news release.
The regents hold the power to hire and fire university presidents, but don’t have direct jurisdiction over other personnel decisions. They can, however, make recommendations and their opinions carry weight on system campuses.
The system issued no statements after Mondays’ private conference call between the regents.
An hour and a half before the regents were scheduled to meet via conference call Friday, a former chairman of the board encouraged its current members to think of the precedent they could set should they move to fire athletics staff at the state flagship.
Jim Shea, the former chairman of the state’s largest law firm, said in a statement that the group “has been committed to the principles of shared governance and respect for campus autonomy” throughout its history.
“I am unaware of any instance in its 30 year history where the Board took action to hire or fire individual campus employees below the rank of president. For a system governing board to hire or fire such an employee on a campus would be unprecedented in Maryland and highly unusual anywhere in public higher education,” the statement reads.
Shea said he was worried that such an action would make it difficult to recruit faculty to system campuses, if they knew they could be fired any time by the system’s governing body.
“Such an action would disrupt the important relationships between the Regents and all system institutions,” the statement reads.
Shea also joined a growing chorus of state power players who have rallied in support of Loh in recent weeks.
“Wallace Loh is a valuable asset to the State of Maryland and higher education,” he wrote. “I hope the current Board of Regents recognizes this and allows him to continue to make progress at College Park and address the recent challenges faced by the campus.”